How To Cast Top-Tier Actors In A DIY Feature Film

I’m currently in pre-production for my upcoming feature film Teacher’s Pet, which will start shooting in just two months.

So far, the cast has come together very quickly and organically – largely thanks to an approach that is very much rooted in micro / no-budget filmmaking.

Over the years I’ve tried just about every approach imaginable, from DIY casting calls to working with a dedicated casting director.

But if I’ve learned anything, it’s that truly micro-budget projects require their own approach. One that is multi-faceted, intuitive, and has its own unique set of criteria.

On most larger budget indie films, a casting director will put out a breakdown, help refine the submissions, and bring in actors for auditions and call backs.

This is how 90% of the roles are cast, except perhaps for any celebrity roles that are offered directly to agents or managers.

This is a perfectly fine method when you have $10K+ to spend on a casting director, and will have enough infrastructure on set to support whichever actors you choose to cast.

That said, if you are making something with more limited means, you have to take into account other considerations.

Personally, when I am casting for a new feature these are the criteria that matter most to me:

  1. Ability to perform well / good fit with the character
  2. Prior filmmaking experience / openness to the process
  3. Professionalism / dedication to the project

A traditional casting process will focus almost entirely on #1. But items #2 and #3 are just as critical (perhaps more) to a micro-budget production.

It’s not just about having talented actors who can perform well.

It’s about finding actors who are filmmakers in their own right, who understand the indie process, and who will show up with the same professionalism they would on a larger production.

This can be easier said than done.

If you simply attempt to do a DIY casting call, you may book actors who are skilled, but unreliable.

More than once, I’ve had to scramble to re-schedule shooting days when actors decided to show up late, or call in “sick” to attend a last minute commercial audition.

The only way around this is to vet your talent from multiple angles.

Personally, I prefer to work with actors who have made their own movies, volunteered on short films for friends, or have otherwise shown interest in the filmmaking process. This makes them far more likely to get what we are doing, and be enthusiastic about it.

Another major factor I look for very early on is reliability.

If someone responds to emails quickly, submits their self tape on time, shows up to the audition prepared – all of that counts for just as much as a good performance.

There’s no sense hiring a great actor if they consistently show up 3 hours late and you don’t make your days.

So the question is – how do you find those rare actors who are not only creatively gifted, but also can be an asset to the production as a whole?

The simplest method I’ve found is to build out the cast organically –

Start with one or two actors that you know personally (or can easily reach out to directly), and expand from there.

For instance, on my feature film Disappearing Boy last year, I started by casting the lead actor (who I had worked with previously and made an offer to directly). I knew he would understand what I was doing, as he too is a filmmaker.

From there, all the other roles were cast via referral – either through his network, my network, or from other actors that we cast.

No formal casting sessions ever took place.

And as a result, everyone on board was not only a great actor, but knew what they were getting into. They embraced the small production and helped elevate it. That would have been nearly impossible to find through traditional casting means.

On the new feature, we are doing some traditional casting calls, but with very much the same philosophy in mind.

The majority of the roles will be filled through organic outreach, referrals, and other less traditional means.

The remaining gaps will be filled with actors who have submitted via DIY casting calls, with a select few direct offers being made to more well known talent.

The goal is always to have a well rounded cast of actors who are themselves filmmakers.

I want the performers to be as much of a part of the production as the DP or 1st AD. That’s how these movies get made, and that’s how you build a team of people who can create something that is greater than the sum of its parts.

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About Author

Noam Kroll is an award-winning Los Angeles based filmmaker, and the founder of the boutique production house, Creative Rebellion. His work can be seen at international film festivals, on network television, and in various publications across the globe. Follow Noam on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook for more content like this!


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